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For backcountry hikers, lodging stops below luxe

Lakes of the Clouds Hut, on Mount Washington, is one of the AMC's highest and most popular. Lakes of the Clouds Hut, on Mount Washington, is one of the AMC's highest and most popular. (Mark Wilson/Globe Staff/File)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / April 6, 2008

A mountain hut can be more like an alpine lodge, complete with entertaining crew, meal service, and showers. It can also be a rough and basic experience with little more than a roof overhead, an outhouse steps away, where electricity is a wish, and the water is carried in.

"We don't use the word hut," says Pete Antos-Ketcham, director of stewardship and facilities for Vermont's Green Mountain Club. "There is a certain connotation to the amenities. We have lean-tos, camps, lodges, or tenting areas."

Call them what you will, a wide range of choices are available across the region besides the new Poplar Stream Falls Hut in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. State park systems, national forest, and private enterprises are options. Hikers can carry everything they need and trek for miles, or families can relax in a cabin close to parking.

Appalachian Mountain Club

The Boston-based club's White Mountain huts are the most well known among New England's alpine community. The hut-to-hut mountain lodging system allows hikers to traverse the high country, with relative comfort their reward after a day on the trails. Though the AMC has campsites, shelters, lodges, and camps around the Northeast, staying at a White Mountain hut is a must for both the rugged outdoorsman and families looking for a bonding experience. The huts are spaced a day apart along the Appalachian Trail, the Maine to Georgia footpath, with meal service in season. The Lonesome Lake Hut near Cannon Mountain is at the end of a family-friendly 1.75-mile hike, while the Carter Notch Hut by Wildcat Mountain is set in mountain splendor.

5 Joy St., Boston, reservations 603-466-2727, outdoors.org. Rates vary depending on season, meal plan, and membership. Nonmember self-service in season is $30 per person, while a Saturday night nonmember adult with dinner and breakfast is $98, a child $61.

Randolph Mountain Club

The club's Crag Camp in northern New Hampshire is on the edge of rugged King Ravine with splendid views of the ravine, Mount Adams, and Mount Madison. The Randolph-based hiking club oversees some 100 miles of trails in the Northern Presidential Range including those leading to the no-frills camp at 4,257 feet on the Spur Trail. Originally built in 1909, the camp was razed and a new one constructed in 1993. There's a caretaker in summer, and water is schlepped from a spring about a quarter mile away. The club also maintains shelters and Gray Knob cabin.

randolphmountainclub.org. $12 per night. 3.3 miles from Appalachia Parking Area, Route 2, Randolph, N.H., by way of Airline, Short Line, Randolph Path, and Spur Trail.

Dartmouth Outing Club

Ranging from the Connecticut River Valley to the lofty White Mountains, the Dartmouth Outing Club rents several of its cabins to the public year round. Accommodating eight to 20 overnight guests, the cabins have either gas or electric lighting or none at all. The beauty is that several are just a short walk, no more than 50 yards, from parking. The 10 person Billings Lodge has access to excellent hiking in the Presidential Range and has a shower in season. On the shores of Armington Lake, the Armington Cabin is a place to paddle while the one-room John Rand Cabin is a half mile from the DOC's popular Moosilauke Ravine Lodge.

603-646-2834, dartmouth.edu/~doc/cabins/. Reservations recommended. Cabins $60 per night (for public).

US Forest Service White Mountain cabins

The Forest Service maintains a trio of spartan cabins available year round in the White Mountains. Don't expect much beyond the primitive: bunks, tables, chairs, benches, and a wood stove. Bring water. The Radeke Cabin sleeps 10 and is easiest to access, a simple drive along the Kancamagus Highway 14 miles west of Conway, N.H. The other two are in Jackson, reachable by trail, and showcase Mount Washington vistas. The log-style Black Mountain Cabin is at the end of a 1.3-mile trek along the Black Mountain Ski Trail. On North Doublehead Mountain's eastern side, the summit-top Doublehead Cabin is the reward for a sometimes steep jaunt among a few trail options that at most is 1.8 miles.

877-444-6777, recreation.gov. Radeke Cabin, Albany, N.H., $40 per night; Black Mountain and Doublehead Cabins, Jackson, N.H., $20 per night.

Green Mountain Club

This Vermont group maintains 70 or so facilities along the state-long Long Trail from the Massachusetts border to Canada. Lean-tos, camps, lodges, and tent areas are spaced about a day's trek apart on the long-distance hiking trail, but several are reached in a mile or so from trailheads. For the most part, the accommodations are little more than a roof over a hiker's head, a bunk platform, and a functioning waste management system. Water isn't always available and must be treated first. The GMC oversees two cabins at Wheeler Pond Camps in the Northeast Kingdom, a short walk from parking and an easy drive from town. There's skiing, climbing, hiking, paddling, and biking nearby.

4711 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Waterbury Center, Vt., 802-244-7037, greenmountainclub.org. Long Trail facilities $5 per night per person, maximum three-night stay, nonmember. Wheeler Pond Camps are $45 per night per cabin, maximum eight people (rates subject to change).

Vermont state parks

The parks system oversees nearly 30 cabins in seven parks, in addition to traditional camping. They're close to campground facilities like restrooms and showers, and come with minimal furnishings. But there are lights, outlets, and front porches for watching time go by. The cabins - in Wilgus, Gifford Woods, Half Moon Pond, Grand Isle, Brighton, Ricker Pond, and Lake Carmi state parks - can sleep up to four.

vtstateparks.org. 888-409-7579 for reservations. Cabins range from $42-$46 per night.

Merck Forest and Farmland Center

Located on more than 3,000 acres of woods and fields in southern Vermont, the Merck Forest and Farmland Center's seven basic cabins give visitors a taste of country life. Sleeping between six and 15 guests, the bare-bones accommodations are equipped with wood stove, bunks, and walk-to outhouse. Water is a stroll away from pumps that can freeze in winter. Open year round, hikers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers can romp along 30 miles of trails and dirt roads past horses, hay fields, and maple tapping lines in season. Distances to the cabins range from a half mile to more than two miles. Gaze out to Mount Equinox in Manchester from Ned's Place while Dunc's Place is on peaceful Old Town Road.

Merck Forest and Farmland Center, Route 315, Rupert, Vt. merckforest.org, 802-394-7836. Cabins run $45-$75 per night.

Marty Basch is a New Hampshire-based writer who can be reached at marty@martybasch.com.

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